Anyone who has spent time networking will tell you...
Scott Zellmer is a friend of Cinder and a phenomenal networker. He has worked as an engineer for cutting-edge companies like Micro Systems Engineering and RevMedx. As a partner at Arpeggiate Consulting Group, he uses his 30+ years of experience in technology development and manufacturing to help small businesses grow.
Scott, how did you get into networking, and why is it important?
A mentor of mine, and a good friend, said “you must learn how to network, you absolutely have to.” I joined Business Networking International (BNI) in Portland and spent about a year and a half with that group studying networking and how to do it properly. It became a big part of my consulting when I was between corporate positions. When I went to RevMedx, we didn’t advertise for any of the positions we hired; we networked.
At Arpeggiate Consulting Group, our entire business development, marketing, sales, and market research is built around networking.
What’s your best Networking Tip?
The number one thing is to make sure you know what you want to ask from somebody you’re networking with. For me, I always ask “who should I meet next?” or “who do you know that needs my help?” so that every time I meet somebody new I have a chance to expand my network.
The other thing I would say is important is knowing what you’re listening for. There are three key things I listen for in networking; Is the person I’m meeting a potential client? If they’re not necessarily a potential client, are they a key networking partner for me? What can I give back to them so that their networking with me is valuable?
How can people get over their fear of networking?
To lessen the fear, I make sure I have an elevator pitch. I don’t just say the elevator pitch the same every time, but I’m clear on how I describe what I do and what my company does so that I can always lead off with that. Another good strategy is to just ask somebody about what they do – it will almost always get the conversation started. After even just two or three times doing it this way, people get comfortable.
I do lots of networking now, and I have a routine. Wherever I am meeting somebody, I always get there at least 10 minutes early to get settled, and then I have a little pre-game ritual: I look them up on LinkedIn, remind myself of who they are, who they work for, and what they do. I always look at their picture so that if I haven’t met them before I’ll know when they come in. I’ll have my notebook prepped with the date, their name, and who introduced me. I find that initial awkwardness of meeting somebody new usually goes away because I feel I know them already.
I’ve been talking mostly about one on one situations where I take an introduction or referral and spin it into a face-to-face meeting or phone conversation with somebody, but another kind of networking is at networking events. To get comfortable walking into a whole room of people that you don’t know – that takes it up a notch.
How do you keep track of all the people in your network?
I have what I call my “networking database” – the truth is that it’s just an Excel table. When I meet somebody who could be a critical networking partner or client, I put them into this database. I enter their contact information and write an introductory paragraph for them.
At Arpeggiate Consulting Group, we measure this extremely carefully; I keep track of how many meetings my partners and I have, as well as how many of those convert to potential clients, how many lead to a proposal for a job, and how many close a job. I also keep track of how many introductions I make into my network – that’s how we manage our sales funnel.
Following up with people is an important part of networking – do you ever send a card to somebody soon after you’ve met them?
I don’t do that often, although I’ve met several people who do. I think it’s a great idea, but I tend to do it in email; I follow up immediately and say, if nothing else, “hey, it was great meeting and getting to know your business.” That said, if they were either a potential client or a critical networking partner, you can start the next conversation right then and there by setting up a meeting.
How has networking changed with the advent of social networks and technology?
From a social media perspective, I don’t really do a lot, but I do use LinkedIn. It’s like having access to everyone’s resume; it’s a really great tool. I look up anybody I’m going to meet and connect to them on LinkedIn. In my preparation before meeting, it’s always my go-to place. If I’m writing my introductory paragraphs, I usually go to LinkedIn and see what they’ve said in their summary section.